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Music Picks

Schmaltzy vs. Sincere and Sexy

Good Valentine's music from Bird, Buckley and Magnetic Fields.

By Thom Wong 7 Feb 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong writes about music regularly for The Tyee.

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When Buckley sings it, you believe it.

As we get closer to that corporate holiday called Valentine's Day, I'm reminded of how easily my emotions can be guided by music. Would my life look the way it does without The Guillemots "Trains to Brazil" or The Boy Least Likely To's "Be Gentle With Me"? Probably not. And it's hard not to believe that the world would be a better place if we got rid of syrupy greeting cards and instead gave ones with Talking Heads lyrics inside of them.

Love songs make up about 105 per cent of popular music, and a lot of effort has been expended trying to wrench something new out of old, worn-out tropes. How many times have you listened to a song on the radio and found yourself anticipating this rhyme flow: Oh baby ___ mine ___ all the time ___ so fine ___ on the line. Or: ___ thinking of ___ in love?

At a certain point in my development, two songs reigned supreme in this regard: Mr. Big's "Be With You," and Extreme's "More Than Words." Neither is going to distinguish itself as a lyrical classic (the latter revolves around Gary Cherone and Nino Bettencourt harmonizing the sentiment, "No speaking; sex now"), but if I were to choose from the pantheon of cheesy love ballads, these would be near the top. But a close friend hates both of them, and summed it up this way: "When that guy from Mr. Big is singing those words, I don't believe him. I don't believe he has ever felt that way in his life."

Which brings us to Jeff Buckley. Since his untimely death 10 years ago, he has been pored over and idolized to the point of sainthood, despite only releasing one studio album. (Imagine if Cobain had died after Bleach). I came across Buckley just as I was transitioning out of my light-in-the-air persona and into my the-world-doesn't-understand-me one. It was the perfect storm. Of all the things that could be said about Buckley's songwriting, and by now they have all been said at least twice, the one aspect of his music that continues to resonate with me is his sincerity -- what Buckley sings, I believe. I believe he sits in corners and cries for the girl, as I believe he once lost himself on a cool, damp night. And for the longest time he was the author of what I felt were the most sincere words ever written about love in a popular song.

(Before moving on to the lyrics, I should note that in popular music it has always, always been the case that songs about love ending, or possibly ending, or having ended and now needing to start up again, are better than songs about love in its prime. The same is usually true of poetry and movies. This is of course my highly subjective opinion, and reveals more than a little of my Romantic nature.)

From Buckley's "Lover, You Should Have Come Over":

It's never over, my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder
It's never over, all my riches for her smiles when I slept so soft against her
It's never over, all my blood for the sweetness of her laughter
It's never over, she's the tear that hangs inside my soul forever

Recently, two lyrics, albeit in the same vein, have struck me the same way. The first was from 2007's most pleasant surprise for me, Once, and the song that acts as a framework for the movie. From Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's "Falling Slowly," originally recorded by The Frames:

Take this sinking ship and point it home
We still have time

The other lyric is from my choice of best album for 2007, Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha. From "Armchairs":

I dreamed you were a cosmonaut of the space between our chairs
And I was a cartographer of the tangles in your hair

I suppose I should provide an actual music pick at this point. Leave the chocolates, forget the flowers, and ignore the voices that claim all a man wants is beer (it is). This year, give the gift of 69... Love Songs, by The Magnetic Fields. This is "The Book of Love."

The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It's full of charts and facts and figures and instructions for dancing
But I love it when you read to me
And you
You can read me anything

Happy Valentine's.

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